The mission of the Central Area Collaborative is to create and sustain a framework for commercial vitality, leadership development and cultural legacy preservation that inspires and attracts investments in high-quality strategies and tools, resulting in wealth creation for historical, present, and future residents, reflective of the brilliance of a culturally diverse and respectful community.
In April 2015, the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development (OED) launched a commercial revitalization planning process in Seattle’s Central Area as part of the Only in Seattle initiative. The desire to develop a plan was in direct response to business owner and community member requests for greater investment in the economic vitality of this historic community. OED hired Nyawela Consulting, a Seattle-based communications firm, to facilitate a community engagement process and write the Central Area Commercial Revitalization Plan. More than 180 individuals and representatives from fifty organizations participated in twenty meetings over a six-month period. OED and Nyawela Consulting worked in partnership to develop relationships and create the environments and processes that would ultimately inspire, inform, and create the Central Area Commercial Revitalization Plan.
The goals, strategies, and measures found in the Central Area Commercial Revitalization Plan support the guiding vision for the neighborhood, as described in the 23rd Avenue Action Plan created in 2013. The City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development led a community-centered process to develop the 23rd Avenue Action Plan—an update to the 1998 Central Area Neighborhood Plan that focused specifically on the 23rd Avenue corridor.
All participants involved in the engagement process were eager to attract investments and take action to implement the five goals identified in the Commercial Revitalization Plan. A handful of leaders from various organizations in the community stepped up to form the Central Area Collaborative—a collection of local business community leaders that have agreed to work together and align their efforts and resources to achieve a great business community.
THE ENGAGEMENT PROCESS
It was not a small feat, to engage community leaders, residents, businesses, educational institutions, non profit organizations and clergy within a community in a process that allows everyone to be heard and that works towards a better vision for the future for all. As such, the inception of the Central Area Collaborative, was born out of a very rigorous process…in which all of the entities mentioned above, voluntarily participated.
It took six rounds of engagement and discussion to get to a point where there was a common focus. The process was as follows…
During the first rounds of meetings, OED engaged six segmented groups to create personal and community timelines that communicated their personal and professional commitment to an investment in the Central Area. The timeline exercise helped facilitate trust and broad agreement in the room that some level of collective healing needed to occur before the group would be able to move forward and stay together throughout the process. Sharing personal histories spurred relationship building and led to better understanding and less judgment when people needed to negotiate with one another. The various groups included business community leaders, neighborhood residents and representatives, elders, religious leaders, and business owners.
Round two meetings continued to engage community members per the practice of round one. However, these meetings focused on identifying needs and wants as they aligned with individual and collective stories shared in round one. During this time it was important to identify overlapping needs and wants while beginning to consider operational structures for the collaboration. In addition, we brought in the Cultural District partners to ensure people knew what was going on.
Round three meetings focused on leadership. We met with individuals and organizations that expressed an interest in leading this work or hosting it until it was able to stand on its own. We discussed two key questions:
1. What is the right structure for the neighborhood? What is the right structure for the neighborhood?
2. What role are you willing to play?
After these discussions, we emphasized that OED is still looking for direction from the community to decide how to organize. The community leaders’ ongoing roles would be to provide space and facilitation to ensure the collaboration was developed and supported in its early formation.
Round four consisted of a meeting with all groups. During this meeting we developed a community timeline and outlined a plan that led to goals and strategies. We edited the goals and strategies before moving on to identify the measures needed to track the Collaborative’s success. After culling and presenting the feedback, we asked the participants to populate and articulate the measures and goals. We asked unlikely and often unfamiliar collaborative participants to work as partners for this process. We then conducted a whole group review to ensure transparency.
Round five meetings brought everyone together to review the goals and strategies. This was an opportunity to see work from round four organized and formatted into a more traditional document. We invited the community to articulate the entire document to approve its language for goals and strategies. Once it was completed, we left it as is and did not translate the language into “City speak.”
Round six meetings were a series of goal-based meetings. We hosted one meeting for each goal and invited anyone interested to attend. During each meeting, we asked participants to analyze and edit the goal, along with its respective strategies and measures. The facilitated process led to a natural prioritization that was assessed as being both accurate and effortless.